“I felt like there had been some mistake, that I wasn’t smart enough to be in this company, and that every time I opened my mouth I would have to prove that I wasn’t just a dumb actress.”- Natalie Portman in her Harvard Commencement Speech.
“Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this. I’m a fraud.” – Kate Winslett
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.” – Maya Angelou
“You think, “Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?” – Meryl Streep
“When I was younger, I just did it. I just acted. It was just there. So now when I receive recognition for my acting, I feel incredibly uncomfortable. I tend to turn in on myself. I feel like an impostor. It was just something I did.” – Emma Watson
‘Even though I had sold 70 million albums, there I was feeling like “I’m no good at this.” – Jennifer Lopez
The above admissions of suffering Imposter syndrome, coming from one of the most eminent women our time has known, are not the only ones. The list is never ending. In fact, Imposter syndrome is quite common and according to research over 70% of people have experienced it at one time or the other in their lives. Imposter syndrome is feeling inadequate—even when the opposite is true. Believe it or not, people who are very successful in life experience it the most. They typically feel they don’t deserve their achievements or successes. It is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to see their own accomplishments, dismissing them as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. And this does not just concern the celebrities but is something anyone can undergo. Both men and women can suffer from what psychologists have dubbed the Impostor Syndrome, however, it’s something women struggle with more often and more openly. The worse is not knowing that such a phenomenon exists and constantly live under this fear of getting “caught”.
Two American psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, gave it a name in 1978: the impostor syndrome. They described it as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” While these people “are highly motivated to achieve,” they also “live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds.” Having laid out the various ways in which one can be experiencing this syndrome it is also important to understand why we feel this way. It is believed that a part of the impostor syndrome comes from a natural sense of humility about our work. That’s healthy, but it can easily cross the line into paralyzing fear. When we have a skill or talent that has come naturally we tend to discount its value.
And Why is that? Well, we often hesitate to believe that what’s natural, maybe even easy for us, can offer any value to the world. In fact, the very act of being really good at something can lead us to discount its value. But after spending a lot of time fine-tuning our ability, isn’t it sort of the point for our skill to look and feel natural? So how to make this feeling go away? There are two things to bear in mind. The first is that some measure of doubt is healthy, manifesting as what we’d typically refer to as diligence or rigour. Second is that someone’s coping strategy for dealing with impostor syndrome is a very specific solution, one that’s particular to their circumstances. Having said that, here are a few takeaways’ that are universal and might help in some way or the other.
Give yourself an appraisal
This is particularly useful if you’re self-employed. When there isn’t anyone to give you positive feedback, you need to be the one to supply it. List any achievements you’re proud of. What are your skills? What could you talk about for hours? Chances are, you’re better than the vast majority of people at these things.
Remember that awareness is a good thing
The sheer fact that you’re critical about your abilities is a sign that you care. A key ingredient to mastering anything is to care enough about it that you want to improve. If the greats felt imposter syndrome (and they did) you can put yourself on the same tumultuous path to mastery.
Make a “feel good” file
This is a file — physical or digital — where you save all the positive testimonials, kind words, praise and thanks that you receive. Every time you need a bit of a confidence boost, remind yourself of your greatness by flicking through this file.
Spend time with those who lift you up
While it’s easy to get absorbed into our own bubble when dealing with a dip in confidence, one of the best things we can do is surround ourselves with others who will pull us out of our slump. Carla Busazi, former editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post UK, recommends a glass of wine or a lunch with someone who can reassure you that are worthy, brilliant, and fully deserving of your success. Conversely, take a step back from those who make you feel inadequate. Although it may not be intentional, some people will only remind us of our flaws and ultimately contribute to our lack of confidence.
Keep a journal
Every day make a note of one thing you achieved or felt good about that day. Some use daily affirmations to train their brain to feel more confident, but I recommend starting with achievements; they are more concrete and measurable. The practice of writing down these accomplishments ultimately will increase self-confidence and belief in your abilities. Whatever you do, don’t let imposter syndrome or lack of confidence hold you back.
All of this leads to the final and most important step: learning how to live with the impostor syndrome. While the above techniques may or may not help you, acknowledging and embracing your fear is definitely the starting point.